When we think of Leica, the second thing we often think of is Summicron. But before Leica formulated their legend, there was a lesser known yet still quite remarkable nifty 50. Thanks to having been overshadowed by the Cron, this very capable Leitz 50/2 is usually available for less than $400. That’s right, I’m talking about the Summitar.
1939’s Summitar was a step up from 1932’s Summar. It was also collapsible and featured the same aperture and focus range, however Summitar’s front element was a more complex two elements cemented together and, importantly was UV coated. These improvements on the front element made for less flaring, vignetting and other optical aberrations that troubled the Summar. Early Summitars from 1939 to 1950 featured 10 aperture blades, two more than Summar, which produce circular out of focus points of light. In 1950, Leica returned to the 6 blade Summar aperture design which produces hexagonal out of focus points of light when stopped down. Early Summitars feature the odd aperture f-numbers (2, 2.2, 3.2, 4.5, 6.3, 9, 12.5) and later versions feature modern/standard ones (2, 2.8, 3.5, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16). Summitars do not contain click-stops, however, they share essentially the same barrel design with the first generation of Summicrons, so rest assured, the Summitar’s haptics are quite good for such an early lens.
The Summitar was my first proper Leica 50. Mine came to me as many do, mounted to a IIIf where it probably spent all of its life. However, my first rolls of film with the Summitar showed far too much of that fabled “Leica Glow” which I’m pretty sure is nothing more than idiots running around shooting unserviced lenses. Once my Summitar had been professionally cleaned, my use of it took off.
The Summitar pairs fine on a Barnack Leica or a 35mm M body and will collapse into each without issue. Of course, you need to run an LTM to M adaptor if you’re going to mount it to an M.
The aperture ring on my copy is a LITTLE loose, there’s not really much dampening to speak of, however, I think this is normal for pre-click-stop LTM lenses, my Summar and 9cm Elmar are the same and this is before and after service. If you’ve never used a lens without click-stops, it’s not as weird as you may imagine. In fact, it feels a bit liberating with a metered body because you can dial in the aperture to precisely what your meter indicates. This is probably a great feature for slide film shooters.
Focus on the Summitar is achieved via a little focus knob which can lock into the infinity position then be pressed in to release it and ride along closer distances, just like many earlier/short Leitz lenses.
Summitar uses an odd size filter thread of 36mm. Most shooters buy a 36-39mm adapter for their Summitar in order to mount a Summicron style hood. I made the massive mistake of buying some Chinese crap adaptor from eBay for this purpose only to get the adaptor stuck on my lens due to incorrect thread pitch. So don’t do that! I have found that, while a bit wonky in appearance, the correct, original rectangular Summitar hood made by Leica actually works beautifully and is, as we’d expect, of exceptional and quite satisfying build quality.
Summitar is a sharp lens. I know, there’s no such thing as a sharp lens! Look, you know what I’m talking about so I’m going to say it even if it makes the MTF lunatics roll their eyes, THE SUMMITAR IS A SHARP LENS! At full aperture and down, if you focus your camera correctly, you’ll get sharp photos, corner to corner, from this lens.
Out of focus area is exactly what you’d expect from Leica, cream, butter, whatever savory food noun you want to apply. But as noted, later model Summitar, like mine, produce hexagonal out of focus points of light. If you don’t like that, look for a pre-1950 copy but look, at full aperture, you still get circular oof points of light so I’ve always enjoyed the variation.
Apparently many Summitars have extensive scratching to their coating so make note of this when you’re hunting for one. And after you buy one, keep it capped, hooded etc and only clean it when absolutely necessary; good practice for any lens really.
That’s all I’ve got! I hope you’ve enjoyed my review of the Leitz 5cm f2 Summitar! If you’re looking for an affordable Leica 50, I highly recommend it! Oh, and if you need a reliable hood for your Summitar, check this out!
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